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    Middle East
     Sep 27, 2005
Trashed: Some myths about Iraq
By Sudha Ramachandran

BANGALORE - A new study by a Washington-based think tank has trashed American and Iraqi government claims that foreign fighters dominate the insurgency in Iraq.

The report, which was brought out by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an independent think tank, says that foreign militants - mainly from Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - account for less than 10% of the estimated 30,000 insurgents in Iraq.

"The pattern of detainments and intelligence analysis indicates that the total number of foreign volunteers is well below 10%, and may well be closer to 4-6%," the study says.

The CSIS study refutes the claim made by the Bush administration and perpetuated by the Western mainstream



media that foreign fighters make up a large proportion of the fighters in the insurgency. The number of foreign fighters "pales beside those for the Iraqis themselves", the study notes.

The US government has repeatedly drawn attention to the large component of foreign fighters in the insurgency in Iraq to quash the idea that Iraqis are rising up against its military occupation of that country. President George W Bush has often cited the presence of "global terrorists" in Iraq to justify his description of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq as part of the "war against terror" and as a reason for continued US military operations in that country.

While the number of foreign fighters in Iraq might pale in comparison to that of Iraqi fighters, the impact of the former in terms of violence has been far greater. Most of the suicide attacks on the American and Iraqi security forces and the attacks on Iraq's Shi'ite majority have been carried out by the foreigners.

The CSIS study also disputes reports that Saudis comprise the largest group of foreign fighters. It says that of the estimated 3,000 foreign fighters in Iraq, Algerians are the largest group (20%), followed by Syrians (18%), Yemenis (17%), Sudanese (15%), Egyptians (13%), Saudis (12%) and those from other states (5%). "Analysts and government officials in the US and Iraq have overstated the size of the foreign element in the Iraqi insurgency, especially that of the Saudi contingent," says the study, which was carried out by Nawaf Obaidi, a Saudi security adviser, and Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East analyst at the CSIS. "Saudis seem to make up only between 1-2% of the fighters currently operating in the country."

The CSIS study’s conclusion that Saudis form a small component of the fighters is disputed by other studies. In his March study of Arab fighters in Iraq, Reuven Paz (director of the Project for the Research of Islamist Movements - PRISM - at Herzliya, Israel) pointed out that "the vast majority of the volunteers that streamed into Iraq are Arabs", and most of these are from Saudi Arabia. He describes as "significant" the involvement of Saudis in the Islamist insurgency in Iraq.

In his analysis of 154 Arabs killed in Iraq in the preceding six month, Paz found that 61% were from Saudi Arabia. He also found that 70% of the suicide bombers were Saudis. "The number of Saudis killed in the past six months in Iraq [94] is too large to be ignored. It strongly suggests the Saudis' direct and active involvement both in the insurgency battles as well as in terrorist operations."

The proportion of Saudis among the insurgents in general might be small but their numbers among the Islamists in Iraq appear to be high. Paz said that what is of concern about the Saudi presence among the fighters is not just their numbers but their influence. He told Asia Times Online that one "should look not only at the numbers but also at the quality of their [Saudi fighters'] contribution to the insurgency, at least the Islamist one. They bring with them more radicalism. Saudis were among those who influenced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to adopt Takfiri ideas [a belief that sects that are not Wahhabi-based are infidel and apostate] and increase the massive attacks against Shi'ites, Sufis and Muslim 'infidel' Sunnis."

The CSIS study as well as the PRISM study demolish another Bush administration myth - that international terrorists were streaming into Iraq, compelling the US to occupy the country as part of its "war on terror". Paz points out in his study that "the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq".

"Only a few were involved in past Islamic insurgencies in Afghanistan, Bosnia or Chechnya." Out of the 154 fighters Paz analyzed, only a few had past links with terrorism including six who "were sons of Afghan alumni".

The CSIS report says that 85% of those interrogated were not on any watch list of known terrorists. "The vast majority of Saudi militants who entered Iraq were not terrorist sympathizers before the war," the report states. Most of the Saudi fighters were "radicalized almost exclusively by the coalition invasion ... Most of the Saudi militants were motivated by revulsion at the idea of an Arab land being occupied by a non-Arab country. These feelings are intensified by the images of the occupation they see on television and the Internet ... the catalyst most often cited [in interrogations] is Abu Ghraib, though images from Guantanamo Bay also feed into the pathology," the CSIS study points out.

The occupation of Arab land and the ill-treatment of Arabs contributed to radicalization of Arabs in the past. This radicalization is poised to witness a surge. "Wait and see what is going to happen when Saddam’s trial starts," Paz told Asia Times Online. "They are going to view him in human eyes as persecuted by the US, rather than judge him by his past horrible image."

For the other foreign fighters in Iraq - the US-led occupation forces - the further radicalization of Arabs and the surge in the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq is bad news.

Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing .)


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